Authoritarian Specter Awaits Post-Election Thailand: Historian

Prayuth Chan-ocha votes Sunday in Bangkok.
Prayuth Chan-ocha votes Sunday in Bangkok.

BANGKOK — A historian on Friday gave a pessimistic prediction of Thailand’s future after elections, envisioning a scenario of political stalemate.

Charnvit Kasetsiri said at a symposium at Thammasat University that junta leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha would likely remain in power one way or the other and evoke a high risk of political violence. He added that it’s unclear how long the strongman would last, however.

“Those in power become addicted to power,” said Charnvit, who believes the anti-junta camp will not be able to form a government despite possessing more MPs due to the votes of the 250 senators Prayuth himself will appoint.

“History tends to repeat itself. Those who do not learn from history tend to repeat history,” Charnvit said, referring to previous junta leaders such as Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, who continued to rule after elections.

Charnvit said that in 1992, junta Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon made himself prime minister but lasted only 47 days before he was ousted after a bloody political clash which led to 44 deaths.

The historian said Thailand would continue to face authoritarianism.

Chulalongkorn University political scientist Viengrat Nethipo said the military junta has succeeded in dragging Thailand back by three decades. However, she said she doesn’t know whether that would lead to deadly clashes between pro and anti-junta camps similar to the May 1992 Massacre.

She added that the Election Commission has lost its credibility and no political institution is impartial.

“What else do we have left? That’s why we are susceptible to military interference,” Viengrat said.

Viengrat said there’s some hope with the rise of social media and new online news agencies that could set the political agenda.

Nanthana Nanthawaropas, dean of the Political Communications College at Krerk University, said there is no hope for Thailand after elections because the electoral rules have been designed to favor the military junta.

“Personally I do not think there is a future [for Thailand],” said Nanthana, another speaker at the symposium.

However, not all have given up hope.

“Thailand is becoming a semi-democratic semi-dictatorial state. Thai dictatorship adjusts itself and could remain in power even after the elections, even if they don’t have the same [dictatorial] power any longer,” said Dulyapak Preecharush, an expert on Southeast Asia focusing on Myanmar at Thammasat University.

“They need to dress themselves up in order to have legitimacy through elections,” he added.